Understanding The Teenage Brain

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The human brain is considered the body’s command center. A baby’s brain has all its cells and neurons, but it’s the connections between these cells that make the brain operate. We can move, think, talk, and accomplish almost everything — all thanks to our brain connections, which are developed throughout the early years of our lives.

Every second, at least one million new brain connections, or synapses, are formed. These connections continue to develop as we grow old.

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The development of the human brain is generally dependent on its age — the older someone is, the more mature their brain becomes. However, certain natural and environmental factors may hinder the full development of the brain, one of which is substance use.

Furthermore, the journey of the teenage brain also depends on the level of parental support. To support children through adolescence, parents need to understand the teenage brain, as well as their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Understanding the Teenage Brain

Studies show that 90 percent of a person’s cognitive development occurs before kindergarten. An average baby’s brain is roughly a fifth of the size of an adult’s brain. Incredibly, it grows by a factor of two in the first year of life. By the age of three, the brain has grown to roughly 80% of the size of an adult’s, and by the age of five, it can expand to a full-grown adult’s brain size.

The main structuring of the brain occurs throughout puberty, which then continues until the 20s or early 30s. Teen cognitive development is determined by an imbalance between the limbic and reward systems — that grow and develop earlier — and the still-maturing prefrontal control system.

Recent research has discovered that the brains of adults and teenagers could function differently. Adults use the prefrontal cortex when thinking — the logical portion of the brain. It is the area that reacts to circumstances with excellent judgment and an understanding of the long-term implications. On the other hand, the amygdala is the part of the brain that processes information in teenagers, and it typically acts on someone’s emotional aspects. That is why emotions primarily control most life decisions among teenagers, making their behavior seem impulsive, curious, or reckless.

The Physiology of the Teenage Brain

The connections between the emotional region and the decision-making center are still growing in the teenage brain, but not necessarily at the same rate. That is why some teenagers are confronted with a lot of emotional information yet cannot describe what they are thinking. The teenage brain makes them “feel” more than it makes them “think.”

By the age of 18, teenagers have developed many adult-like thinking abilities. They can think imaginatively and are frequently focused and anxious about the future. They also start to comprehend, plan and achieve long-term objectives. Between birth and puberty, the brain undergoes significant changes. Not only does it expand in size, but the number of brain cells and degrees of connections also change. Research says that these developments do not end when reaching the age of eighteen. The brain keeps maturing and continues to fine-tune itself until the 20s.

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The structures and brain interconnections help control emotional transition during the developmental stage, making teenagers particularly sensitive to anxiety and stress. The stress hormone cortisol may be more active in teenage brains, causing them to feel its consequences earlier. The prefrontal cortex — the area responsible for shutting down the stress response — is yet to fully develop in teenagers, meaning that stress may be experienced repetitively and for extended periods.

An Adolescent’s Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors

Someone’s emotions get stronger during puberty. Their mood, emotions, and feelings often shift quickly and unexpectedly. Your child may sense intense emotions for the first time, although it is normal for kids to be perplexed or furious sometimes. They may be more sensitive to their environment, causing them to become easily agitated and irritated. Responsibilities and social expectations may also make them feel pressured.

Your child’s brain is adapting to all the new hormonal developments within their body. The regions of the brain that makes them feel complicated emotions begin to grow during puberty. Moreover, the area responsible for emotion regulation, deep thinking, reasoning, and decision-making, on the other hand, is usually the last to mature. These changes can make your kid feel out of control since they may not have the mental capacity to cope with their emotions yet, leading to mood swings.

During puberty, it is assumed that someone develops the ability to perform abstract thinking, counterfactual reasoning, reasoning from false premises, and systematic reasoning. These skills are essential in decision-making. The adult brain reacts to stimuli differently from the teenage brain. A combination of wanting short-term rewards influences adolescent risk-taking, decreased sensitivity to negative consequences, and insufficient control of immature frontal cognitive aspects.

Adolescents often make decisions that may jeopardize their well-being. High-risk behaviors can severely affect someone’s future prospects. Some of the most prevalent teenage high-risk behaviors include sexual activity, substance abuse, and teenage violence.

Social Development in Teens and Adolescents

As your teen grows, they establish their identity and learn to be an adult. This can be seen through their social and emotional development. You may notice that your child is attempting to gain greater independence — which is perfectly normal — but without proper guidance, this might have a negative impact on their life, as well as their social interactions with family and friends.

When adolescents grow increasingly independent from their parents, they spend more time with their peers, explore romantic relationships, and learn their sexuality, resulting in significant social changes. The formation of their identity, which generally entails a period of exploration, can reflect adjustments in their brain.

Adolescence is often linked with risky conduct, which is influenced by brain changes. The reward-processing centers of teenage brains grow faster than cognitive control systems, making teens more satisfied with receiving rewards than analyzing potential negative consequences. Also, variables such as residence, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation can influence teen brain development in ways that may result in a wide range of positive and negative experiences.

As children mature, they tend to spend more time with friends and less time with families. These peer relationships become less controlled by parents. School groups and collaborative activities define friendships between children, whereas personal exchanges of thoughts and feelings characterize friendships between teenagers. During adolescence, peers can serve as either good or bad influences.

Peer pressure is more often linked with negative behaviors than positive ones. It leads teenagers to commit more risky decisions than they would if they were alone or with their family. They are more likely to drink alcohol, take drugs, and commit crimes with their peers. Meanwhile, adolescents with good peer connections are proven to be happier than those who are socially isolated or with negative peer relationships.

Moreover, the teenage brain makes adolescent sexuality inextricably linked to romantic relationships. The parents and the government make considerable efforts to deal with teenage sexuality concerns such as unprotected sex, contraception, and teen pregnancies. At the same time, there is more to sexuality than these actions. Teens often start to learn their sexual identities. Adolescence tends to be the stage when lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people begin to see and understand themselves.

Other factors that may affect brain development include childhood experiences. Those who have positive social and familial connections early in life grow to be happier and more successful in school and life. On the other hand, those who experience poverty, familial abuse, and a lack of early learning experiences can negatively influence brain development and their prospects.

Furthermore, teenagers exposed to substance use and abuse are more likely to experience brain health consequences — anxiety, stress, and depression. They may even experience long-term effects such as memory loss. These substances may also influence them to engage in unprotected sexual activities. Their behaviors may result in teenage pregnancy, sexual harassment, or rape. All of this can have adverse effects on the development of the teenage brain and their social interactions.

How Substances Affect the Teenage Brain

Any drug can impair a teen’s ability to pay attention. Furthermore, if someone starts using drugs while they are young, they are more likely to develop a substance addiction problem or relapse into substance misuse when they attempt to quit. Substance misuse can induce or disguise mental health issues like anxiety, depression, mood swings, and delusions. Both substance addiction and substance misuse can lead to violence or suicidal tendencies. If left untreated, substances may pose long-term harm to brain development. As such, most teens with a history of substance abuse are recommended to undergo teen drug rehab and treatment.

Sometimes it’s possible that your teen might be suffering from mental illness that’s the reason they might have started taking support of drugs or alcohol or any other addictions. So understanding a teenage brain is very important, we can help your child in fighting their mental problems. You can contact us today for mental health treatment for teens.

In Los Angeles, alcohol is the most widely used drug by teens and young adults — ranging from 13 to 25 years of age. Alcohol is consumed by 54.1% of the young population, with 36% who binge drink falling into this category. Furthermore, substance misuse may frequently result in worst-case scenarios, such as addiction, overdose, and even death. These substances include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and certain prescription drugs, like Xanax. Unintentional drug overdoses kill 21 out of every 100,000 teenagers per year, according to recent data.

What Can Parents Do?

The teenage stage is one of the most vulnerable in life, as children undergo several internal and external changes. To provide your child with the best parenting methods, you must be aware of these changes so that you can assist them during their challenging moments.

Parental responsibilities and guidance can highly influence a child’s brain development. Adult supervision has been proven to improve brain functions, particularly regarding a teen’s decision-making abilities. Your responsibility is to help your teen cope with the stress, anxiety, and depression that they may experience while growing up. Here are some ways you can contribute to the holistic development of your child’s brain:

  • Support your child — Know your child’s interests and hobbies, and make time to do such activities together. You may also try setting reminders and schedules for these.
  • Create a rewarding environment — Give your child rewards for accomplishing tasks given to them. Reward systems can be highly motivating due to the surge of the “happy hormone” in the brain called dopamine. 
  • Spend recreational time with your child — Look for games and outdoor activities that your child may like to do with you. These diversions will not only help develop their brain, but will also help improve your parent-child relationship.
  • Give your kid a break — Like adults, kids also get tired. And by tired, we do not mean physically tired. Some kids get bored with their routine, so it is crucial to think of alternatives to keep them on track.
  • Constantly remind your teens what they are capable of — The potential of your child is endless, and only your parental support can help them improve. Find ways to motivate them and show them just how talented they can be.
  • Help your child avoid temptations — Distance your child from the dangers surrounding them, such as drugs and violence. At the same time, do not deny them the information why these things should be avoided. Instead, educate them and make them understand the ramifications.
  • Communicate — An excellent parent-child communication can build a strong foundation of love and trust at home. Making them feel closely connected to you allows them to open themselves more as they grow up.

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